The US war against Vietnam was a criminal act, an assault on democracy and savage beyond imagining but children won’t learn any of this from the BBC website, “Bitesize GCSE History: Vietnam 1954-1975”.
The BBC site does not even acknowledge the main events in the war: the American attack on and invasion of South Vietnam: the word “invasion” is not even used. The word “attack” is however used to describe what Vietnamese people, on Vietnamese soil did to the US invaders whereas normal logic would demand the word “defend” or “resist” to describe the actions of a native population against a foreign military occupation. Nowhere on this site can one find the fact that the US committed against Vietnam the supreme international crime, the crime against peace: the launching of a war of aggression.
The staggering, heartbreaking scale of the suffering that the US caused in Vietnam is not even acknowledged let alone described properly. The war was a holocaust of death and suffering by horrifying means, chemical, mechanical, face-to-face massacre, napalm, vomiting gas, white phosphorus, Agent Orange, cluster bombs, carpet bombing, forest defoliation, crop destruction, starvation, forced mass relocation, concentration camps, assassination, torture and rape. The racism inherent in US policy is not commented upon. The longstanding desire of the Vietnamese people to be free of foreign control and their commitment to that cause, despite the most devastating losses, is hardly mentioned. Quotations from Lyndon Johnson that refer to Vietnamese people as flies from a manure pile are given for children to learn but quotations from Ho Chi Minh are not considered as important.
A careful study of this BBC site and a comparison with serious sources of information would be a very instructive and illuminating exercise for a young historian. I will analyse the site and demonstrate that it is, as a whole picture, a lie. This first post covers less than half of the first page of the first section of the BBC site but already, the groundwork for the lie has been laid.
The BBC website, line by line
Text from the website is given in red. In bold black text are alternative “bitesized” statements that provide students with some basic (if oversimplified) facts about the US war on Vietnam. Then there is more background information so that interested students can delve a little deeper. Much of the information is contained in the book “The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990” by Marilyn B. Young (Harper Collins, New York, 1991) and the numbers in square brackets are page numbers from that book where much source material is cited.
During the Second World War Southeast Asia had been under Japanese control, but in 1945 the French re-occupied Indo-China.
Alternative bite: During the Second World War, the Vietnamese independence movement, the Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh, fought to free Vietnam from Japanese and French occupiers and helped the US with anti-Japanese intelligence. In 1945 Vietnam declared its independence from France and expected the US to support it but instead the US and Britain enabled France to re-occupy Vietnam and also re-armed Japanese prisoners of war and ordered them to suppress the Vietnamese.
Background [Young pp 1-19] Prior to the WWII, the Vietnamese independence movement had been organising for decades to free Vietnam from French rule and the French had been brutally suppressing them. During the war, the Nazi-collaborator Vichy government of France gave economic and military control of Indo-China over to Japan. The Vietnamese independence movement then fought the occupying Japanese as well as the French. Officially, the Viet Minh (the nationalist coalition formed in 1941 and led by Ho Chi Minh and other members of the Vietnamese Communist party) was a wartime ally of the US and Britain. In 1945 Ho Chi Minh announced Vietnamese Independence using the words of the US Declaration of Independence. Ho Chi Minh listed French crimes against the Vietnamese people. Ho and the Viet Minh were overwhelmingly supported by the population. Ho appealed to the United States to support Vietnamese independence but the US (with British support) re-installed France as the colonial power in Indo-China. Britain used a few Indian Ghurka troops to participate in a coup against the Viet Minh in Saigon and the Indian nationalist leader Pandit Nehru was enraged: “We have watched British intervention [in Indo-China] with growing anger, shame and helplessness that Indian troops should thus be used for doing Britain’s dirty work against our friends who are fighting the same fight as we.”
The right to self-determination of the Vietnamese people was secondary to the geo-political concerns of the US and the European colonial powers. Instead of being rewarded for fighting the enemy of the Allies, the Vietnamese had their old colonial rulers re-imposed on them. US support for the hated French, when the majority of the population of Vietnam supported independence, was an attack on democracy.
Critique: The omission of the role of the US in putting France back in power in Vietnam sets up the framework for the rest of the website. “How the US got involved”? The US was actively “involved” in Vietnam and thwarting self-determination for the Vietnamese people already in 1945.
A nationalist group, the Vietminh, eventually surrounded and wiped out the French occupying army and America was dragged into fighting a costly and disastrous war in Vietnam.
Alternative bite: The Viet Minh continued its resistance to the brutal French colonial regime which was maintained by funding and military aid from the US. The support of the population for the Viet Minh led to a peasant army defeating the US-funded French occupying forces with their modern US-provided equipment and aircraft. The US Government urged the French to continue fighting but the colonial war was too unpopular in France.
Background [Young pp 20-36] The Viet Minh carried out progressive social reforms that maintained and extended the support of the people of Vietnam for independence at the same time as carrying out an armed struggle. The French colonists were propped up by the US with money and weapons to use against the Viet Minh. All reports from all US representatives in Vietnam were clear that the people supported independence and Ho Chi Minh as their leader. The US consul in Saigon reported that “the majority of the natives stoutly maintain that Ho Chi Minh is the man, and the only one, who represents them and they will oppose the putting forward of any other candidate as the creation of but another puppet…”
Even US support could not save the French regime because the population supported the Viet Minh. The French mindset was so racist that despite their own history and pride in the French Revolution and their own Republic, they couldn’t recognise that they were fighting against a people’s revolution. As they surrounded French positions at the decisive battle at Diembienphu, Vietnamese soldiers sang the song of the French resistance: “Friend, can you hear the black song of the crow on the plain? Friend, freedom is listening to us in the night.”
Critique: Even the omission of the crucial fact that the French regime in Vietnam was maintained by huge amounts of US money and equipment can’t make the site’s claim that the US was “dragged” into war comprehensible. Dragged by whom? After WW2, the US was the major global economic and military superpower with roughly 50% of the world’s wealth and in undisputed military control of Atlantic and Pacific. The word “dragged” is used to obscure the fact that US Government freely decided to prop up the brutal French colonial regime and freely decided to attack and invade Vietnam. The word is a lie.
At the Treaty of Geneva in 1954, Indo-China was divided into Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, although it was agreed to hold elections in 1956 to unify the two parts of Vietnam.
Alternative bite: The Geneva accords signed in 1954 set up a temporary military division between the North and South of Vietnam. This was not a political division and did not create two separate states. The French and Vietnamese agreed that whole-country elections would be held 18 months later in 1956 in which all Vietnamese people would vote to decide who they wanted as their government. The Vietnamese knew they would win that election which was why they agreed to the temporary military division. As the agreement was signed the US was already working secretly and illegally to undermine it.
Background [Young pp 37-59] In the summer of 1954 the Viet Minh controlled most of Vietnam, politically and militarily and expected Vietnamese independence to be recognised and all foreign military to withdraw. The major powers at Geneva — the US, France, the Soviet Union and China — had their own agendas to pursue. In particular, both parties who might have been expected to support Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China, urged Vietnam to modify its terms. Totally isolated, the Vietnamese were forced to agree to the temporary military division and to an election date far in the future of what they wanted.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was working to subvert the agreement from the moment it was signed. CIA agent Edward Lansdale’s team in Hanoi distributed leaflets spreading disinformation about new economic and monetary regulations causing panic among more affluent residents; they poured sugar in the petrol tanks of Hanoi buses, impeding transport and creating frustration and dissatisfaction; they suborned astrologers who predicted dire disasters; they spread rumours of rampaging Chinese Communist troops. Lansdale instigated an exodus of Catholics from the North, organising whole parishes to be taken to the South in American ships, the people having been promised land and livelihood and following priests who told them that Christ had moved South. Lansdale also created panic and more refugees moving South by spreading rumours that the US would back a new war in which it would use nuclear weapons on the North. In the South the CIA was smuggling in arms, ammunition and radios and bribing newspaper editors to publish anti-Communist essays. The US had no intention of allowing the Geneva-agreed elections to take place because it knew — everyone knew — that Ho Chi Minh would win overwhelmingly and the country would be unified, independent and Communist led. This the US would not tolerate and so it set about creating a new political entity, a new nation called South Vietnam, one that was unrecognised by the people of Vietnam who considered themselves citizens of a whole undivided country with a long and proud history.
Ngo Dinh Diem, the ruler of South Vietnam, refused to hold elections.
Alternative: Ngo Dihn Diem was chosen and installed by the US as leader of South Vietnam. His government was unpopular across most sectors of Vietnamese society and was only maintained by massive US funding and military support. It was understood by everyone that the Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh would win the election overwhelmingly in North and South and so the US and Diem refused to hold them or even hold talks with the North.
Background [Young pp 37-59 ] The “democratic” credentials of the US-chosen and US-supported autocrat Ngo Dihn Diem can be assessed by the fact that in a referendum in 1955 he claimed 98.2% of voters supported him. In Saigon, out of a total of 450,000 registered voters, 605,025 voted for Diem (the numbers are cited correctly). Students of history will be particularly interested that, desite this outrageous fraud, Allan Nevins, a dean of American historians with a successful and much rewarded academic career, praised Diem’s South Vietnam as a “proving ground for democracy”. The best “democracy” US money can fraudulently manufacture and then maintain with bombs and chemical weapons. The US media also played an important role in the fraud. The New York Times ran a profile of Diem in 1957 entitled “An Asian Liberator” just as he was ramping up violent repression against the Southern members of the resistance against the French.
Critique: By not even mentioning how Diem became “ruler” of South Vietnam, the site promotes the lie that the US only “got involved” much later. The very phrase “got involved” is hardly descriptive of US actions against Vietnam unless one would also accept that Germany “got involved” in Poland in WWII.
More to follow.